Loḥamei Ḥerut Israel (Lehi or Stern Gang/Group) was an armed underground organization in Palestine founded by Avraham Stern. In June 1940, after the Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi (IẒL) decided on a truce of underground armed activities during World War II, the Stern group broke away from IẒL.
At first it called itself Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi be-Israel and declared a continuation of war against the British, opposed the voluntary enlistment of Jews into the British army, and even attempted to contact representatives of the Axis. This attitude gained it the reputation of a
fifth column in official circles, and the British Palestine police and secret service were mobilized against it.
During January and February 1942, the clashes between members of the Stern group and the British military and civil authorities reached their peak, and the British forces reacted by arresting and killing leading Stern group members. On Feb. 12, 1942, Avraham Stern himself was caught in his hiding place and was killed on the spot by British police officers. Considerably weakened, the group was on the verge of complete disintegration when some of its detainees managed to escape from prison and regrouped their forces. They then gave themselves the new name of Loḥamei Ḥerut Israel.
In early 1944, Leḥi resumed its operations under a triumvirate leadership (Yiẓḥak Shamir, Nathan Yellin-Mor, and Israel Eldad-Scheib), continuing them with short interruptions until the end of the Mandate in 1948. Members of the group were ordered to be continually armed. Those who were caught admitted in court to being its members, refused to recognize the court's authority, and made political statements.
In November 1944, two Leḥi members, Eliahu Ḥakim and Eliyahu Bet-Ẓuri, assassinated Lord Moyne, British minister of state for the Middle East, in Cairo. They were caught, tried, and hanged in Cairo in March 1945. In July 1945, Leḥi and IẒL agreed to cooperate in their struggle against the British, and in November 1945 Leḥi joined the Haganah and IẒL in the Hebrew Resistance Movement (Heb. Tenu'at ha-Meri ha-Ivri), which existed for nine months. During and after this period, Leḥi carried out sabotage operations and armed attacks on military objectives and government installations (army camps, airfields, police stations, railway trains), while also attacking individual members of the British police and army and organizing expropriations to secure funds. Its clandestine radio station waged a continual propaganda campaign, and posters and declarations were distributed.
In April 1947, Leḥi began sabotage operations outside Palestine, mailing bombs to British statesmen. The Mandatory authorities reacted by making administrative arrests of anyone suspected of belonging to or helping Leḥi and by passing severe sentences on those caught in operations or even merely carrying arms. On March 17, 1947, Moshe Barazani was sentenced to death for having a hand grenade in his possession. Together with Meir Feinstein, a member of IẒL, Barazani blew himself up in the Jerusalem prison before the sentence could be carried out. The history of Leḥi was marked by frequent prison breaks and escapes from arrest in Palestine (Mazraʿa, Latrun, Jerusalem, Acre, Athlit) and from the countries of forced exile (Eritrea, Sudan, and Kenya). After the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine in November 1947, Leḥi participated in attacks on Arab regular and irregular forces, including the attack on the village of Deir Yāsīn near Jerusalem, which they captured together with IẒL (April 9, 1948).
On May 29, 1948, two weeks after the establishment of the State of Israel, members of Leḥi joined the Israel army. In Jerusalem, however, they continued to fight separately for a time. After the assassination of the UN mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, in Jerusalem on Sept. 17, 1948, an act which a group of Leḥi members were suspected of perpetrating, the Israel authorities enforced the final disbanding of Leḥi in Jerusalem. After its leading members were arrested and investigated for a short period, Leḥi ceased to exist. Its leaders took part in the elections to the First Knesset as the Fighters' List and Nathan Yellin-Mor was elected as representative. Memorial meetings in the memory of Avraham Stern are held annually by an association of Leḥi members.
Loḥamei Ḥerut Yisrael, 2 vols. (1959); J. Banai (Mazal), Ḥayyalim Almonim (1958); G. Cohen, Sippurah shel Loḥemet (1962); I. Scheib (Eldad), Ma'aser Rishon (1950); D. Niv, Ma'arkhotha-Irgun ha-Ẓeva'i ha-Le'ummi, 3 (1967); Y. Bauer, Diplomacy and Resistance (1970).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.